by jexmas on November 11, 2013

I am increasingly troubled by the discourse on post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). I just heard a segment on NPR about returned veterans going to therapy to be treated for their symptoms. I heard one veteran break down as he described a woman and her baby killed in the performance of his duty and then having to come home and hold his own baby in his arms.

As he sobbed, the therapist said to him, “Well you’re here now. It’s not happening now. This will come in waves. Just be here.” What? Are you serious? Like he could just wait it out?  How many of us could face this devastating truth about ourselves, even in the very best of times? And how many of us could ever believe our crushing guilt will just pass by?

Yes, the symptoms come in waves. Yes, you will be visited by nightmares and you will not be able to sleep properly. Yes, you will be assailed by intrusive thoughts. But to ask a man with PTSD to treat his symptoms like the waves of an addiction is profoundly, and morally, wrong.

The only thing that does is leave the man who felt responsible for killing the woman and the baby with the full weight of the moral responsibility of their deaths and that, for some men and women, is unbearable and enough to drive at least some of them to suicide.

It is impossible for men and women to go to war without feeling they are doing so at the bidding of a government that, somewhere and somehow, can justify the killing of a woman and a baby. It is not fair for this man to have to bear that burden alone. If you kill someone, anyone, justifiably in the name of war, then you have to be able to expect your country to carry the burden of your actions with you. Explicitly. You cannot be left to hold onto the devastating consequences of your actions by yourself.

People change in wars because they have to, because their country requires them to leave something about the sanctity of human life at home. People in a war zone believe they will be killed if they don’t kill. Frightened out of their wits, they will commit outrageously dehumanizing acts and, for some men and women, that means in the aftermath living with the simple and felt experience of killing people within a justifiable context at the time, but then bringing home the vivid memories of what that looked like and felt like in the field. Bringing those memories back into a culture where the sanctity of life is upheld, although less so than it used to be, is really hard.

And that brings me to my second point, which is to wonder if our gun culture is gaining popularity, so to speak, because there are unspeakable acts we carry in our consciousness that spill out into our communities and make us all afraid of each other.

When the sanctity of life at home is under threat, there is something seriously, profoundly wrong. And we cannot wait it out by treating it like a wave to be washed away. We need to talk about it. We need to tell the truth to each other and we need to start now. All of us. Everybody.

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